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2011-12 RPI 2011-12 Sagarin Series: Head Coach TV
It's been just over two weeks since IU handed Purdue its worst-ever home loss, a 37-point beatdown that IU controlled nearly throughout. Things have not been any prettier for the Boilermakers since then. Purdue has been blown out by Northwestern, Michigan State, and Illinois while winning by 8 at winless-in-the-Big-Ten Penn State. Purdue needs to win four of its remaining six games (and then the first game of the Big Ten Tournament) to make it to the NIT, and with games against IU, Michigan, and Minnesota, in addition to a road trip to Iowa, that's a tall order for a team that has really struggled to score points. None of that is to say that IU should overlook Purdue or assume that this game will be another blowout. Frankly, I'm more concerned about this game than I would be if Purdue had two or three more wins on the resume. Given that Purdue has little else to play for, this game becomes of central importance. It's also worth noting that even of the last two seasons, neither of which matched Purdue's performance from 2009-2011, the Boilers have been good on the road. They won a bunch of Big Ten road games last season and were competitive for long stretches as Michigan and MSU earlier this season.
One thing you won't read here is any triumphal grave-dancing regarding Purdue's program. Matt Painter presumably hasn't forgotten anything about basketball since Purdue was in the thick of the Big Ten and national elite from 2009-2011, and the talent level seems to be on the upswing. As long as AJ Hammons returns, just a couple of good outside shooters could make Purdue a formidable team next season. If Painter had landed either Branden Dawson or Gary Harris, let alone both, then I suspect that the "flawed" players on Purdue's current roster would magically look much more competent. It was foolish for Purdue fans to judge Tom Crean only on his IU record, when his Marquette resume demonstrated that he was a good coach who had never had a losing season before coming to Bloomington. It would be similarly foolish for IU fans to presume that Purdue's downturn is permanent. Ultimately, Painter is going to have to recruit better, but if the ratings are any guide, then he has done so with next year's freshman class. All that said, does it please me that it would be a win over Purdue that could move Crean to .500 for the first time since he was 5-5 in late 2008? Yes. Does it please me that of all the excellent coaches who have visited Mackey Arena (John Wooden, Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, Jud Heathcoate, etc.), it is the coach derided by Purdue fans as "Clappy the Clown" who nearly doubled the visitor's margin of victory record at Mackey Arena? Yes, immensely.
As mentioned before, this Purdue team isn't particularly good at either end of the floor, but has struggled particularly on offense. Last year, Purdue had the lowest turnover percentage in the country, thanks to the steady hand of Lewis Jackson. This year, the Boilermakers are turning it over way too much for a team that doesn't shoot well. Purdue has been very good on the offensive boards, but not anywhere else. As IU fans saw firsthand, the Boilermakers do have a very skilled young big man, AJ Hammons, who scored 30 of Purdue's 60 points in the last meeting. I think Hammons's dominance in that game was a wee bit overstated. Much of his production came when Cody Zeller was on the bench, and the vast majority of it came when IU was leading by 20 points or more and was focused on locking down the perimeter to prevent a three-pointer fueled comeback. Still, he is very, very good, and it will be interesting to see how IU defends Hammons if it is a more competitive game.
Ultimately, the same matchup problems that have plagued Purdue against IU in the past two seasons should dictate the result tomorrow. Nevertheless, this is a rivalry, and Purdue players will be anxious to avenge one of the most humiliating losses in program history. The Hoosiers need to approach this game as if the Big Ten title is on the line, because for IU, it is in every game.